Saturday, 19 January 2013

15 Year Olds Can Have Personalities Too

In the last two weeks I've read two young adult books.

One was Robin in the Hood by Diane J Reed.

One was Enlightened by Devyn Dawson.

Both came with great reviews, so my expectations were set relatively high. I read Robin first and anyone that follows me on Twitter will know what I thought of it.

I loved it.  I loved Robin's character, I loved the patchwork, eccentric, touch of magic world that Diane created.  I loved the character arc and the growth and change that Robin experienced.  And I loved the spark and emotional resonance between Robin and the utterly intriguing love interest, Creek.

So that was it. Thanks to Diane, I was all about young adult fiction.  What would I read next?

Hence Enlightened.  

Now, just to be clear I haven't read book 1 in this series.  If I had read book 1, chances are I would have been more deeply invested in the characters.  As it was I found them a struggle.

Despite the fact that the heroine Jessie was way powerful and had A Great Destiny, she still seemed to me to be remarkably childish.  Whatever Big Events had happened in book 1 didn't appear to have given her much wisdom or depth of character, bruised her or scarred her at all, or even given her a great deal of inner strength.

In fact, she seemed to come across a bit like the sort of fairly superficial teen you get hanging around the fringes of films like Clueless.

Lots of Oh My God My Boyfriend Is So Gorgeous.  Lots of Oh She Was A Bit Mean To Me In the Loos.  Lots of Ew My Mum Just Mentioned Birth Control (Yuck).

It didn't seem to recognise that most people of 15 or 16 are dealing with Real Life, experiencing complex situations and emotions and carving out the foundations of the adults they will become.

It's the same failing I found in the mega successful Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief - Percy loses his mum, finds out he's a demi-god and doesn't appear to change as a consequence.  Oh please!

Young adults are just that, young adults.  Changing. Growing. Hurting. Maturing.

JK Rowling recognised that.  Harry Potter is shaped and changed by his experiences.  As the books progress we get to know a darker, more mature Harry.

C S Lewis recognised that.  In the Voyage of the Dawntreader, Eustace isn't affected so much as transformed.

Diane J Reed recognises that.  Her Robin learns a sense of responsibility and sacrifice.  She still thinks about how hot she looks in her jeans (she is human, damn it) but her experiences change her.

And that's how YA characters - no, any characters - should progress in a book.  If a character has learned nothing as a consequence of their experiences the reader will be left ultimately dissatisfied.  There needs to be change, and their needs to be growth.

Presenting teenage characters as solipsistic and superficial doesn't just let them down, it lets us all down.  

Unless they change, of course.


Lisa Shambrook said...

So a mum of teens, growth (not just physical) is in the forefront of everything! 'Normal' teens grow and mature in 'ordinary' lives, so when an author throws in a huge event the characters need to react to it and it will always change them.
Looking forward to reading 'Robin'!

Meg McNulty said...

It's ace, you won't regret it!

Jessica said...

Once again, you've so clearly written what I've been thinking about YA books in general lately. I think "there's no growth" hits the nail on the head. I don't so much mind a whiny, spoiled brat as long as he or she has at least acknowledged and begun to attempt to not be whiny or bratty by the end of the book.

Now I'm curious about "Robin."

Visions of Other Worlds

Diane J. Reed said...

I'm so honored by this review & everyone's comments! And yes, the authenticity of the adolescent heroine's character is EXACTLY what I was aiming for with Robin in the Hood—I wanted a multi-dimensional teenager who is active (not passive!) and is transparently sorting out her thoughts, feelings, ideals and identity, all the while emotionally growing along the way. Thank you so much for your encouragement & support—it means the world to me : )

Meg McNulty said...

It's a great pleasure Diane - thanks for writing such a great book!